Gradual for Advent: (Zechariah 9:9, Psalm 118:26)
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem!
See! Your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation.
Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD;
we have blessed you from the house of the LORD.
And in those days John the Baptizer came along proclaiming in the desert of Judea, saying "Repent for near--the kingdom of the heavens." For this is the one spoken of through Isaiah the prophet, saying, "A voice crying out in the desert; `Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight His paths!'"And this John had his garment from camel hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then, kept coming out to him Jerusalem and all the Judea and all of the region around the Jordan, And were baptized in the Jordan river by him confessing their sins. And seeing many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for his baptism, he said to them, "Offspring of Vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Then, you do fruits worthy of repentance, And do not think to say in yourselves, `We have Father Abraham.' For I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. And already the ax to the roots of the trees is laid; Then every tree which does not make good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. On the one hand, I myself baptize you in water into repentance, but on the other hand, One coming after me is stronger than I am, for Whom I am unworthy to carry sandals; This One will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire; Whose winnowing fork is in His hand and He will clean thoroughly his threshing floor and gather His grain into the barn; but the chaff He will burn up in unquenchable fire.
With these words we have before us a tale of two trees. It was the best of times for the repentant trees. It was the worst of times for the unrepentant trees. Those trees that repented bore fruit from repentance. Those trees which refused to be changed by God in repentance bore no godly fruits. Repentant trees bore fruitful grain which God gathers into His barn on the last day. Unrepentant trees have no fruit at all–only chaff which will burn in the unquenchable asbestos hell-fire for eternity.
These trees are actually people. It's really a tale of two types of people. The first are convicted by God's law, and confess that they are indeed sinners who deserve punishment from God. God turns them from their sin to His grace in repentance, and they are baptized to wash away their sin. The second group, pharisees and Sadducees, are those who don't think they sin, don't see any need for change, and rebuff God's attempts to turn their hearts and minds away from their sin toward God.
So which group do you fall in? If you consider yourself a "good person", resist any change from your bad habits, expect God to welcome you into heaven because you are so great, then you are probably those resisting God's Spirit who wants to bring you to repentance. If you know that you are guilty of sin, sorry for breaking God's commandments, desperate for God to rescue from your sinful ways, then you are among those in whom God works repentance, turning you from sin to His grace in Jesus
It is this gift and working of God called "repentance" which makes all the difference. Repentance prepares the Lord's way to you. Repentance makes Jesus' path straight for Him to come to you. Because repentance is something special. It is not just the guilt and sorrow you feel when you do the wrong thing. Judas felt that much, but ended up in hell. Repentance is also faith, which trusts in Jesus to remove your sins, guilt and all, and bear those sins in His Own body on the cross unto death.
Repentance is so vital to your salvation that Luther listed it as the first and foremost of his 95 theses. He wrote that the entire life of the Christian would be one of repenting. Repenting isn't just something you do once, right before you "get saved". Repentance is God constantly turning you from sin, returning you to His grace in Christ Jesus. Repentance is a continual renewal of your heart and mind which God's Spirit works in you, conforming you to be more and more Christ-like in thoughts and feelings
But this gift of repentance is not "of the Law". It's not something that you can do to straighten God's path to you. The pharisees and sadducees thought it was, trusting in their own self-righteousness. They became offspring of deadly snakes, nothing but dead trees to be burned in hell-fire. No, the law says do, and for you it remains ever un-done. The gospel says "it is finished", and by Christ, it truly *is*! God prepares His way to you in Jesus, Who comes to you in His means of grace for your salvation.
Jesus came to you in your own baptism, not unlike the baptism of John. Your baptism washed away your sins, cleansing you from all your unrighteousness. Jesus comes to you in the proclamation of the gospel which tells you the kingdom of heaven is at hand in the person of the King, Christ Jesus Who died and rose for your salvation. Jesus comes to you when you confess your sins, receiving His absolution from your pastor. Jesus comes to you with His body given and blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. And you know that where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is also...
Hymns from LSB:
#343 Prepare the Royal Highway! music